Review: Royal Ballet in Three Short Works: Serenade, L'Invitation au voyage, & Theme and Variations at Royal Opera House

Performance: in rep to 10 Nov 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Sunday 2 November 2008

The Royal Ballet’s Three Short Works are plotless, showcasing simplicity, artistic collaborations and grandeur. Balanchine opened and closed with two dramatically difference works, yet each utilized his trademark chains and formations. Sandwiched in the middle, Michael Corder’s L’Invitation au Voyage was revived after a 23 year absence from the Opera House stage. No new work featured on this bill, allowing the back catalogue to shine.

Both Balanchine works, Serenade and *Theme and Variations*, looked fresh and achieved beautiful performances from the corps de ballet. The lines and movement explored in Serenade would challenge any new work created on the company today, with level and unison taking centre stage over changing dynamics. The lift work was clean and challenged the classical partner work which can be seen in such works as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker. The absence of a narrative allowed for the movement to be manipulated and explored.

The unison work, performed mainly by the female dancers, conjured many images – from dancers in rehearsal to mythical sylph like creatures which moved as one. As usual the company were tight and well rehearsed, alluding to a dream like quality. The structure of the work lent itself to that of a ballet class, with movement building in intensity and freedom, yet moments appeared to be the inner turmoil of the lone dancer amongst fierce competition.

The second Balanchine piece, *Theme and Variations* could not have been further from the opening work in style or costuming. A work which glorified the lead dancers, in this case Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli, was originally choreographed to display the talents of Igor Youskevitch. Created to a Tchaikovsky score, the choreography explored the grandeur of Imperialist Russian work, yet at no point was a narrative created. Rojo moved from dreamy princess to fast-footed gypsy girl in less than a heartbeat, giving this relatively short work no time to draw breath. The set, a lavish hall with luxurious velvet drapes and the dancers, costumed in picture-book style tutus helped the choreography create the illusion of the time.

The end of this work looked like a celebration on stage, with the dancers appearing to enjoy their ever-changing formations as they promenaded around the stage. Balanchine’s all male corps, who dominated the stage towards the end of the work, had vast presence which almost over shadowed the leads final flurry of lifts and poses.

The most intriguing work of the evening was the awkward middle slot, which is usually saved for a new work. The decision to incorporate Michael Corder’s L’Invitation au voyage seemed to fit with the evening’s theme of plotless ballets, yet the work lacked the simplicity and watchability of the Balanchine works. The heavily cluttered stage and lack of continuity between costumes drew the eye away from the dancers.

The duets and trios, performed to the music of Henri Duparc, had an otherworldly feel which was strengthened by the mezzo-soprano performance by Harriet Williams. The awkward coupling of a singer and dancers sharing the stage did not always work, due to the constant movement of the singer within L’Invitation au voyage.

The first duet performed by Marianela Nunez and Sergei Polunin was perhaps the highlight of this work. The idea of love’s young dream was securely woven into the duet and the dancers appearing light and happy in every lift. Despite this, the work felt dated, even though it only premiered in the 1980s, a sharp contrast with the earlier works of Balanchine looking freshly choreographed for the cast on stage.

L’Invitation au voyage, despite all efforts by the dancers, was simply overshadowed by Serenade and Theme and Variations. Although the inclusion of Corder’s work meant British Ballet was revived, this piece remained firmly in the 80s. Both Balanchine works are well worth a viewing and are fantastic examples of plotless work.

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